I arrived at the address given at 10am and was met by Ben and his wife Jasmine who were very friendly. After a cup of tea Ben and myself proceeded to his workshop. Ben asked me several questions about my draw length and preferred weight and started to sort through a pile of High Altitude Italian Yew staves. After a few attempts Ben arrived at a stave he thought would be suitable for the size of bow I wanted.
For those that don’t know, a stave of wood is a block of wood (approx 2 inches by 2 inches by 7 feet).
Italian Yew wood is layered with creamy coloured Sap wood and golden heart wood.
After securing the stave to his bench, Ben then showed me how to remove the bark using specific tools. I then proceeded to continue down the rest of the stave. Ben then marked a section of the bow to the size required and explained what he was doing, then asked me to complete the rest. After making sure I hadn’t mucked it up, Ben ran through the operating and safety instructions on his bandsaw, .He supervised me cutting away the excess wood on the stave.
I could now begin to see the outlines of the finished bow.
I went to lunch at a very nice traditional pub about 5 mins walk from the workshop,
In the afternoon I proceeded to shape the bow, under Bens instruction, using rasps and files. If you're not used to manual labour this can be tiring. I won't say much about the shaping of the bow as it is a bit intricate. If you want to find out more sign up for the course. Around 5pm we called it a day.
I went home tired, but pleased.
The next morning was mainly spent shaping the bow. After this we had to tiller the bow. For the non technically inclined, ( which included me until Ben explained it ) this is basically bending the bow to assess and adjust how much weight it is pulling.
I didn’t want some massive English Warbow that I'd bust a gut pulling, and after talking with Ben and trying a few of his other bows, we decided on 45 to 50 lbs.
This is attained by marking and scraping away certain sections of the bow using specialist scrapers.
By end of the day I was happy with the weight and we had glued the horn ends on to attach the string. Skipped the bit about pub lunch but for those interested, had a full English.
Couldn't really do much after gluing ends on, so left a bit earlier about 4.
The third and final day removed any tool marks mainly using sandpaper on the bow, then after final shaping of the horn ends' oiled the bow.
Ben then showed me how to make a string using a jig type rig, and there she was finished.
We had a very enjoyable afternoon trying her out on the target outside his workshop.
Conclusion.... was it worth it?
Hell yes. I love my new bow. I know every inch of he,r as I made her myself. She's thin, sleek and deadly.
So I called her Lilith.
I could have bought one from the internet, but wouldn’t have been much cheaper as high altitude Italian yew is hard to find.
Was it fun and interesting?
That to an extent depends on you. I'm a fan of the medieval era. Learning how a longbow was made from start to finish, and ending up with a great handcrafted bow was I found great !
You can watch youtube videos, and read all you want, but actually doing it makes it so much more real.
Ben is a very patient and clear teacher, he supervises you at all times. He has lead a very interesting life and knows more about bows than anyone else I've ever met. The level of instruction he gives is very in depth.
I'm confident if I had the tools and materials I could make a bow on my own. OK not in three days, and probably not as good, but I now do have the knowledge.
Would I go again?
I'm seriously thinking of signing up to make a flatbow with Ben probably some time next year.
You get 1 on 1 instruction, all tools and materials provided, ( would suggest you bring a few arrows of your own if you want to try out when finished).
If you want a traditional medieval longbow, I can't think of a better way of acquiring one.
Thanks for reading this Russ